A former patient of the North Carolina Cancer Hospital and a two-time alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is showing his gratitude to the center that helped him heal.
A $10 million gift from Etteinne “ET” and W. G. Champion “Champ” Mitchell of New Bern, North Carolina, will create a new fund supporting ground-breaking research in blood cancer at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, including lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma research.
“The Mitchells’ amazing generosity accelerates UNC Lineberger’s research to help thousands afflicted by blood cancer,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Lineberger is working on a range of laboratory and clinical trials — which are already showing great promise — to break the code into a complex cancer that is challenging to cure. Inspired by Champ’s life-saving personal experience with our medical team, their support advances investigations into the underlying cellular mechanisms of blood cancer that can benefit thousands of people.”
Nearly every three minutes, one person in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer. In 2015, Champ Mitchell was one of those individuals. Mitchell was treated for stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at North Carolina Cancer Hospital, the clinical home of UNC Lineberger. Dr. Thomas C. Shea, the John William Pope Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research, led a team of clinicians that developed a treatment approach that put Mitchell’s lymphoma into remission. The care he received at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital inspired the Mitchells to create the Champ and ET Mitchell Fund for Blood Cancer Research. This fund will accelerate research, ultimately improving the lives of future patients.
“Every day, 151 fellow North Carolinians learn they’re facing a daunting battle against a deadly disease. And I know from personal experience, it’s not a fight you can or should do alone,” said Champ Mitchell. “Between the support of my family and an innovative, caring team of physicians and researchers lead by Dr. Shea at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital and UNC Lineberger, we fought my battle together. Today, my battle is won, but so many others need partners to fight with them. ET and I believe our gift can help the UNC Lineberger team bring all of us closer to a cure than ever before.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that blood cancers will cause more than 58,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018 alone. The Mitchells’ gift will further current and future research conducted by Shea and other UNC Lineberger faculty and teams that translate fundamental knowledge into new avenues of therapy for one of the deadliest forms of cancer. For example, as co-director of UNC Lineberger’s Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program, Shea leads a research team that is studying how to reduce the risk of cancer relapse in patients following a bone or stem cell transplant.
UNC Lineberger is one of only a select few academic medical centers in the U.S. with the facilities, technology and personnel to develop, produce and deliver cellular immunotherapy. Cellular immunotherapy is a highly promising field of cancer research and care that involves genetically engineering a patient’s immune cells to recognize and fight the patient’s cancer.
Others on the UNC Lineberger team have already developed a robust portfolio of clinical trials focused on advancing cellular and other forms of immunotherapy for Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemias and multiple myeloma.
“This is an exceptionally generous and visionary gift from Champ and ET,” said Bill Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health Care. “Every day researchers across UNC are working together to make strides in developing new treatment options for patients fighting cancer. Thanks to the Mitchells’ leadership we will continue to accelerate our efforts to end cancers of the blood and ensure that North Carolinians have access to the most promising therapies available.”
“Champ and ET Mitchell have made an investment that will greatly advance our ability to conduct laboratory and clinical investigations into the underlying mechanisms that make blood cancers so challenging to cure,” said Dr. H. Shelton Earp, director of UNC Lineberger. “Our cellular immunotherapy studies have had notable success in treating some blood cancers, but these are a complex group of cancers that likely will require a number of treatment options – many of which have not yet been discovered. This gift will jump-start innovation and discovery.”
Champ Mitchell earned undergraduate and law degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill and is now a retired lawyer and business executive whose career included serving as CEO of Network Solutions. ET Mitchell, also retired, graduated from the University of the South and served two decades as a military intelligence officer.
The Mitchells’ gift supports For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina. The University’s historic $4.25 billion fundraising campaign is inspired by the Blueprint for Next, Carolina’s overall strategic framework built on two core strategies: “of the public, for the public,” and “innovation made fundamental.”